|Elijah in the wilderness|
What we didn't know is that the economy was poised to collapse around us. We also hadn't reckoned with the fact that our society has changed in its views about religion to the extent that it has. I guess being in vocational ministry, especially of the full time sort, can isolate you from the real trends in the real world. We also didn't realize that, like it or not, the Great Clergy Convert Movement begun in the 80s with Scott Hahn has, unfortunately, slowed to a trickle. Part of it may well be the other factors I just mentioned. After all this is not Scott Hahn's generation. Hahn, Grodi, Thigpin, others of the 'Celebrity Convert' movement came into the Church during booming economic times, under the passionate and charismatic leadership of Pope John Paul II, who put a major premium on reaching out to 'our separated brethren' as of prime importance in the New Evangelization. And it was still a somewhat 'religious friendly' culture.
I know, by the 80s America was hardly a Baptist tent meeting. We were moving ever faster away from our cultural Christian roots. Religion was becoming increasingly suspect. Generations of kids never having graced the doors of the Church were becoming the norm rather than the exception. But there was still not the automatic suspicion and contempt that our post-9/11 world would bring to the minds of the unchurched. There was still a generic nod, and even handshake, toward traditional religion. Not all portrayals of the religious were Piper Laurie, some were still positive. If the individuals were negatively portrayed, there was still some generic 'religion somewhere in some way is still OK" attitude within our culture. As an agnostic, I conceded the point back in the day.
But in these years, it's none of that. Pope Benedict had his own priorities, and with the exception of reaching out to the Anglican Communion and the Orthodox traditions, there didn't seem to be as much focus on the rest of our "Separated Brethren". Perhaps it was beginning the process of actually figuring out how to bring the divergent traditions back into the Church, but that simply meant removing the focus from some abstract, generic 'them' and focusing on one tradition at a time. Hostility toward religion is at an all time high, and many younger people (like young people who are HR managers who do the hiring), look at religion somewhere between collecting Spock Ears and belonging to the KKK.
Naturally the economic collapse didn't help. With ten people applying for every job, you could levitate into an HR manager's office, only to be told the last guy could levitate and juggle. Having 'religious guy in religious stuff' on your resume was almost like an iron weight around a marathon runner's neck. And there was the Church itself. There simply were no positions, and no real desire at this point to do anything about it. Because of the economy, Church jobs that may have once seemed paltry for their compensation were now like gold. Folks just wouldn't give them up. And the Church, at least in these parts, no longer felt the need to create an 'office of ecumenical relations for this clergy convert who can't find a job.' The great enthusiasm about clergy converts had clearly dwindled. After meeting with dozens throughout the diocese, it was typically 'we'll pray that things work out somehow...though we have no clue how they will.'
So no, this was not the Scott Hahn generation of converts. Which could be why the overall numbers appear to have dwindled, and even lay ministries supposedly dedicated to helping clergy converts seem to be filling their testimonials with people coming into the Church who actually aren't, you know, clergy converts There is no Mother Angelica ready to swoop down and help form lay apostolates around a convert on the sole criteria that he is a convert. Come into the Catholic Church from Protestant ministry in the 00s or later, and you're pretty much on your own.
None of this is to say that we've had no help. On the contrary, the Church, in the sense of the people in the parishes, has been beyond overwhelming in generosity. Had they given us all they've given us when we had money to live, we could have afforded that month long round the world cruise we've always dreamt of. Of course the money, the gifts, the help and services have gone to keeping us alive all these years as I jumped from this temp job to that wild card chance. And in these last few years the help kept us just under the surface, but not descending into the depths of Davey Jones' Locker.
Now, as I begin my new job, I'm reminded of just how long it's been. The last time we had any sense of stability in our family, my oldest son - a Junior in high school - was in the third grade. Our 7th grader had not started school. That's a long time of jumping through hoops, and if anything, I regret that such a large portion of our life with our children was spent not knowing one day to the next what would happen.
I can't help but admit I wish something would have come by way of the Church, to keep the ministry going, to keep the sense of calling to vocational ministry to the Gospel alive. But, as of now, it apparently was not to be. I also have to admit that while this job helps, it gets us to the next place, sort of like that die roll that gets you past Boardwalk with a hotel. We made it. We got to GO and get to collect our $200. But we still have a long way to go. We need my wife to find something that will bring in money and fit with our homeschooling. We need my Mom's health to rebound. And once the dust settles, we still need to find ways to settle into the Church's ministry. Scheduling has been the biggest bane in that, and my job, alas, will not help as the initial schedule will be alternately through late evenings. No big problem, but makes taking part on a regular basis difficult.
So prayers will still be appreciated. We have a long way to go, though we've come along way in the process. To the families at St. Mary and St. John Neumann we owe much. To some of my readers and the prayers, kindness and generous offers, we also owe much. I am indebted to Mark Shea and some of his readers for having come through for us when we were literally at the end of ropes. It's for that I continue to visit Mark's blog, hoping that things go back to the way they used to be. And, of course, I thank God maybe not enough, because the air I breath and the health I and my family have, the food we have and the roof over our heads, ultimately come from Him.
I'll blog when I can, and hopefully get back to my goal of 2/day in the not-too-distant. Pray again, thanks again, and TTFN.